‘A Life in the Spirit of Jazz’ – Siggi Loch 75

SiggiLoch

TO CELEBRATE his 75th birthday, ACT Music label founder Siggi Loch releases a 5-CD box set of recordings which chronicle his astonishing 55 years in the music industry.

From his early ’60s beginnings as a music rep for EMI Electrola (Universal), it seems the entrepreneurial twinkle was already evident as the twenty year-old travelled his native Germany in a Volkswagen Beetle brimming with newly-imported albums – and in only a matter of months, he became the youngest label manager in the world at that time, accepting a position with Philips. His career blossomed, eventually becoming boss of global business WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) and then head of WEA Europe (Warner) in London. But, as if reaching that pinnacle wasn’t enough, in 1992 he realised a long-held teenage dream by launching his own label – ACT Music – which, over the past twenty three years, has built its international reputation as a forward-thinking jazz label, and garnering many awards for its achievements.

Loch’s musical journey across the decades has been varied, but he cites his experience (as an impressionable fifteen year-old) of seeing a Sidney Bechet concert as the key to unlocking his passion for jazz; and that unerring ‘love affair’ has ultimately seen him signing and championing some of the genre’s biggest names – Michael Brecker, Esbjörn Svensson, Vijay Iyer, Marius Neset, Gwilym Simcock, Nguyên Lê, Nils Landgren, Magnus Öström, Michael Wollny…

During a five-hour sequence categorised into five disc anthologies (The Beginning; Blues & Rock; Crossing Borders; Visions of Jazz; Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic), ‘The ACT Man’ reveals the depth of his production experience across an exciting half-century’s evolution of pop, rock’n’roll, blues and jazz. And once you set it running – from the chirpy, opening New Orleans clarinet lead of Bechet’s Indian Summer, through Jean Luc-Ponty’s pulsating With A Little Help From My Friends, into Steve Winwood’s 12-bar Hammond grooving (Stevie’s Groove, with the Spencer Davis Group) – it’s easy to become hooked on the collective brilliance of these sixty-six tracks.

There’s the fabulous live collaboration of Dave Brubeck’s quartet and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan (Unfinished Woman); Buddy Guy’s unmistakably raw, loquacious guitar and vocal in First Time I Met The Blues; and many a revelation, such as The Motherhood’s psychedelic, early jazz/funk interpretation of Cream’s I Feel Free. Trombonist Nils Landgren released two haunting albums of traditional and modern-day folk melodies with late, lamented pianist Esbjörn Svensson – that partnership is recalled with Höpsi; and E.S.T. themselves – the unequivocally seminal trio who, over fifteen years, grew into ACT’s hugely successful flagship signing – are represented here in classic, heavily grooving style. If the pianistic baton was to be passed down honourably, it would be to Michael Wollny who has demonstrated a similarly intelligent, inventive approach to the piano trio format (Loch identifying him as “the creative pillar of the ACT family” who inspired him to carry on after Svensson’s tragic death), and so Nacht, from acclaimed 2014 release Weltentraum, is included.

Both prolific and eclectic in its output, the label’s vocal artists (encompassing rock, folk and jazz) have always featured prominently in the catalogue – tracks from the likes of Viktoria Tolstoy, Ida Sand and Solveig Stettahjell demonstrate their powerful contribution; and not unlike ECM Records, ACT Music has broadened the discovery and appeal of European jazz in its widest sense, bringing prominence to the brilliance of instrumentalists such as Iiro Rantala, Vincent Peirani, Heinz Sauer, Leszek Możdżer, Christof Lauer… the list goes on. Further extending this vision for promoting improvised music through unusual yet illustrious collaborations, Siggi Loch has established a concert series at the Berlin Philharmonic which naturally has rolled out into CD releases; and that aspect is reflected here in an inspiring selection, including Vincent Peirani/Emile Parisien and Chano Dominguez/Marius Neset.

At €40 (£28), you may need to consider the investment – and compilations are perhaps less likely contenders for wish lists. But at little more than a fiver an album, this is an absorbing glimpse back into musical history, as well as an entertaining way to make fresh discoveries.

Released in the UK on 31 July 2015 – a few days ahead of Siggi’s birthday on 6 August – more information and track listing (which, at the time of writing, does not entirely correspond with the album!) is available at, of course, ACT’s website.

Meanwhile, in deep gratitude for possibly my greatest jazz find, I’m off to Dodge the Dodo

 

Siggi Loch producer

actmusic.com

ACT Music – ACT 7004-2 (2015)

‘Spirit House’ – Joel Harrison 5

12 cm digi-2-sides-1tray_OK.cdr

US guitarist Joel Harrison is not the kind of guy to become entrenched in one particular musical niche – in fact, his extensive back catalogue of recordings (probably lesser known to European ears) reveals a desire to straddle genre borders to communicate his searching creativity.

Harrison’s collaboration with sarode player Anupam Shobhakar (Leave the Door Open, Whirlwind, 2013) conveyed an intelligent and empathetic appreciation of North Indian and other world music, ingeniously fusing it with jazz and rock elements; and previous albums reveal an embracement of African, Appalachian, country music and spirituals (to name but a few), as well as the clear influence of American jazz and country guitarists such as Bill Frisell and Duane Allman.

This new release release presents a fascinating quintet line-up – guitar, trumpet, bassoon, bass and drums – in an improvisationally-heavy exploration of originals by Harrison, plus one arrangement. The guitarist explains that a Spirit House, in East Asian culture, is a miniature structure sheltering the deities, “a home of sorts for those invisible forces that guide the visible world” – and hence a useful metaphor for the studio coming-together, following a West Coast tour, of esteemed musical spirits Harrison, Cuong Vu, Paul Hanson, Kermit Driscoll and Brian Blade.

With such collective experience, Spirit House projects a huge vista of powerful styles and atmospheres centred around contemporary jazz and rock, with an instrumental/electronic weave which, at times, is pleasingly difficult to unpick. Title track An Elephant in Igor’s Yard is typical of the energy to be found here, it’s dark, swirling mood underpinned by clashing, overdriven guitar chords and a solid, persistent bass’n’drum pulse; yet there is space within for trumpeter Cuong Vu to blast high into the roof… and is that footloose pitch-bent synth actually a remarkable electronic transformation of Paul Hanson’s bassoon?

The attractive, relatively acoustic feel of Old Friends is inhabited by a playful whiff of mid-’70s prog/psychedelia (mostly thanks to its jaunty, almost Hendrix-fashioned bassoon melodies), as is the tumbling Left Hook, where guitar, trumpet and bassoon superbly combine as a smooth, pseudo horn section before Vu delivers the most impressively extreme range of techniques. Paul Motian’s Johnny Broken Wing drifts freely and emotionally in Harrison’s guitar-and-effects arrangement, the plaintive unison melody carried serenely by Vu and Hanson; and that melancholy aura filters in to the leader’s translation of his own early 90s poem, Some Thoughts on Kenny Kirkland – a tribute, led by soulful vocalist Everett Bradley and Harrison’s ‘Free Bird’ guitar, to those who have departed too soon.

The chattering lightness of You Must Go Through a Winter is carefully measured, leaving a broad canvas over which trumpet, guitar and oboe glide effortlessly – a levitational oasis amongst the heavier numbers; and bluesy Sacred Love increasingly bustles to Kermit Driscoll’s grooving bass as trumpet and guitar grittily duel it out, joined by the new-age inquisitiveness of the bassoon (Hanson’s work a real stand-out). Eight-minute title track Spirit House cautiously ebbs and flows, Harrison’s sparse writing offering the intended freedom to his colleagues; and Look At Where You Are, featuring the leader’s layered vocals, closes the album in smoky, wistful, American folk-rock tones.

Spirit House offers a real sense of discovery, realising Joel’s Harrison’s own intentions: “This is a project that mixes heart, soul, intellect and wit to create music that might move in different ways… to open a door inside the listener that helps to experience something which takes them on a journey.”

Released on 7 July 2015, full details and purchasing options can be found at Whirlwind Recordings.

 

Joel Harrison guitar, voice
Cuong Vu trumpet
Paul Hanson bassoon
Kermit Driscoll bass
Brian Blade drums, voice
with
Everett Bradley voice
Adam Kipple Hammond B-3 organ

joelharrison.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4673 (2015)

‘Fist Full of Notes’ – Indigo Kid II

IndigoKidII

FOR GUITARIST Dan Messore, the different yet similarly broad landscapes of his two spiritual homes – Pembrokeshire, Wales and Santa Teresa, Costa Rica – feature prominently in his compositions for this second Indigo Kid release, Fist Full of Notes.

Messore’s well-received debut Indigo Kid album, in 2012, was encouraged and led by renowned saxophonist Iain Ballamy (who the guitarist studied under in Wales) – and whilst Ballamy returns for a couple of numbers here, he introduces creative tenorist Trish Clowes to take up the lead sax role. From the original quartet line-up, bassist Tim Harries remains, but drummer Martin France makes his first appearance with the ‘Kid.

Strikingly progressive in feel, Dan Messore has developed this band’s musical atmospheres of jazz, folk and country to judiciously include electronics/effects which complement and sustain the original, open, acoustic sound; and the transformation can become cinematic (maybe that’s the clue to the curious ‘fist full of notes/dollars’ title idea), often with satisfying prog rock grandeur.

The key to the success of the project lies in the constantly shifting textures which Messore and his team employ; here is a straightforward quartet/quintet line-up, yet the clever written and improvisational stratification – organically building, evolving and fading – defines the enticingly alternative approach. So, there are familiar jazz territory run-outs, such as Trish Clowes’ sunny pairing with Messore in lightly shuffling All Hands to Dance and Skylark, recalling the saxophonist’s work with guitarist Chris Montague (including the later inclusion of layered effects); but then the intense, rock-heavy aura of From Nowhere to Our Place excitingly summons the spirit of Robert Fripp and King Crimson.

The mellower side of Clowes’ very distinctive tone announces folksy Snow on the Presellis, its easy-going, guitar-rich demeanour perhaps leaning closer to Central America than mountainous South West Wales; and Mr Randall creates a fascinating blend of experimental jazz fusion and early prog as Harries’ wah-wahed electric bass combines with France’s fabulously intricate drumming over disquieting electronics. Dan Messore’s style has been likened to that of guitar legend Richard Thompson (though you could easily put John Etheridge, John Abercrombie and Bill Frisell into the mix, too). That self-accompanied folk style comes out in one of two pieces dedicated to his late father – the Soft Machine-imbued expanse of Carpet Boys; and The Healing Process reveals the familiar, deep, mellifluous signature of Iain Ballamy.

Waiting for Paula is quietly majestic, the echoic searchings of Clowes and Messore contrasting well with sparky rhythms delivered by Martin France – a perfect example of the cohesion within this ensemble; and interlude Quiet Waters does indeed ripple calmly to picked guitar and confident melodies, followed by the perky country-rock of The Bay. To close, Iain Ballamy again swells the ranks in Sketches in the Fabric, Tim Harries’ incisive electric bass driving its infectious jazz/rock energy.

It’s great to hear a fresh approach to contemporary jazz, and Dan Messore’s compositional and improvisational prowess flourishes amidst the distinguished musical company he keeps.

Released on 13 July 2015, Fist Full of Notes is available at Babel Label.

 

Dan Messore electric guitar, composition
Trish Clowes tenor sax
Iain Ballamy tenor sax (tracks 6 & 10)
Tim Harries electric bass
Martin France drums

danmessore.com

Babel Label – BDV14138 (2015)

‘Flow’ – Drifter

Drifter_Flow_300

“THE MUSIC means so much more now. Ten years ago, we were just playing tunes that we loved to play. Now the music comes from within us and somehow encapsulates the feelings of the last ten years.”

There’s a heartwarming sense of triumph and arrival which emanates from the backstory to those words from Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila. Early in the ‘noughties’, Tuomarila and his quartet were flying high and recording with Warner Jazz France (most notable, their excellent 2003 album 02) when suddenly the label shut down their jazz and classical department. Here was a prominent European jazz ensemble without the proverbial paddle… or so it seemed. In the intervening years, both Tuomarila and saxophonist Nicolas Kummert continued to independently develop their craft through regular touring, and perhaps there was an inevitability about them not just crossing paths in the future, but once again kindling the spark of their creativity.

Now, following Edition Records’ 2014 release of Alexi Tuomarila’s engaging trio album Seven Hills, and encouraged by Edition, the quartet have reconvened as Drifter; former members Tuomarila and Kummert join again with drummer Teun Verbruggen and welcome bassist Axel Gilain to the fold. There’s a smile-inducing mystique about this quartet’s combined output which can be difficult to nail. Certainly, the instrumentation is familiar – but perhaps the best explanation is that there is both strength and balance achieved through the co-leadership of pianist Tuomarila and saxophonist Kummert, buoyed by the varicoloured rhythmic skills of Verbruggen and Gilain. Persistent up-front soloing is not Drifter’s way.

From this near hour-long collection of eight originals, plus one arrangement, opener Crow Hill reveals the aforementioned parity as piano and sax become almost conjoined in the melodic spotlight; and when Tuomarila eloquently breaks loose, Kummert responds up through the gears, his verbal tone redolent of Joshua Redman or Mark Lockheart. Tuomarila’s dual trademark is found in The Elegist which grooves to his deep chordal impetus, yet also produces effortless high piano lines which sail as purely as fast-moving cirrus; and, taking Axel Gilain’s high ostinato bass hook plus Verbruggen’s bristling percussion, Harmattan provides greater extemporised freedom for piano and sax.

Drifter’s sound world is beautifully accessible, with the added complexion of a few vocal tracks (as in the 02 album’s Bone-Yard Jive). But rather than offering extensive lyricism, the quietly harmonic voices of Kummert and Gilain are employed more instrumentally through repeated phrases which, in Lighthouse, cleverly pictorialise its dark, lilting momentum (“I’m looking for a lighthouse”); and with more of a rock inflection than jazz, the effect is quite distinctive. Nothing Ever Lasts (music by Tuomarila, words by Gilain) feels particularly anthemic, its solid folksong-like motif carried through into a memorable vocal exultation, with Kummert’s sax hinting at Garbarek.

The grungy, wailing, jazz/blues of Breathing Out My Soul becomes knee-tappingly infectious. With only a simple, repeated, unison vocalisation of the title, a wonderfully pliant bass motif sets up stand-out piano from Tuomarila against the thrashing of Verbruggen’s kit; and enticing rhythmic changes invite Kummert’s sax to overflow in improvisation – quite unlike anything out there at present! Gilain’s Toueï is delightful as it gently pirouettes around the bass – and, as throughout the album, themes and rhythms regularly metamorphose with entertaining unexpectedness.

The concept of covering a rock/pop hit such as the The Police’s King of Pain might well come with a warning – but Tuomarila unlocks its hidden dance qualities so remarkably that it becomes its own idea, with the lyrics of Sting’s original soon forgotten amidst its driving energy. And to close, Vagabond combines the compositional Englishness of Tim Garland with Svensson-like piano explorations – a resounding, dizzying climax.

Alexi Tuomarila’s belief that this quartet’s re-emergence marks “the development of our friendship as a band and the greater sense of purpose we all have in our lives” is borne out in an exciting album which I’ve repeatedly enjoyed over the past few weeks.

Released on 17 July 2015, Flow is available at Bandcamp as download, CD or 140gm 12″ vinyl.

 

Alexi Tuomarila piano
Nicolas Kummert saxophone, vocals
Axel Gilain double bass, vocals
Teun Verbruggen drums

Edition Records – EDN1059 (2015)

‘Strata’ – Ivo Neame

Strata

IVO NEAME is, without doubt, an effulgent beacon amongst British contemporary jazz pianists. Familiar as one third of much-lauded supergroup Phronesis, and cornerstone of both Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet and Norwegian saxman Marius Neset’s projects, he is unsurprisingly much in demand as live performer and recording artist.

2012’s Yatra found Neame breaking out of these roles to interpret, in octet proportions, the excitement and intricacy of his distinctive, original compositions. Three years on, re-scaling to quintet format, new release Strata continues to reveal new layers of sound and texture through a challenging, saturated landscape of snappy arrangements and broadly extemporised freedom. From his previous album, Ivo reintroduces the solid musical personalities of tenorist Tori Freestone, vibraphone player Jim Hart, plus trusted drummer Dave Hamblett; and, adding to his own line-up of piano, synths and accordion, he also welcomes the considerable expertise of bassist Tom Farmer.

Before recording, the band were able to explore and fine-tune these eight new compositions via a series of live gigs, which explains both the confidence and sense of creative abandon on display here; captured over just two days in the studio, that immediacy is preserved. Neame describes the developmental unpredictability: “We interpret these pieces as we play them, so that the music is a dynamic, evolving entity. Once the rug has been pulled away, the tune might take on a new identity, ending up with a different feel, mood or tempo… The contributions of the band members are vital, as they all help shape the character of the music.”

Indeed, the strength of this sound world – far from any preconception of ‘jazz quintet’ –  lies in the desire to explore new atmospheres, arising from strong concepts, through unfettered improvisational exposition and varying instrumental seams. Title track Strata illustrates this well, building from the simplest, dreamy piano motif set against a synth-led pulse until the richness of Tori Freestone’s tenor carries it skywards; and from thereon, the layers eloquently build, shift, then fade from view. Personality Clash feels wonderfully anarchic, with the pianist at his glorious, high-flying best against the elevated buoyancy of bass, drums and vibes – and Freestone’s characteristically forceful, wide vibrato searching is a joy.

Ivo Neame cites early ’60s album ‘Coltrane plays the Blues’ as a classic – and OCD Blues, with Freestone’s brooding tenor motif, suggests something of the opening, pressing urgency of Coltrane’s ‘Mr Knight’. At almost ten minutes’ duration, it traverses many planes; sometimes hitting Genesis-like prog grandeur, then flying like the wind through rippling conversations between Neame and Hart, or stratospherically drifting to bowed vibes, sustained accordion and shimmering percussion. Miss Piggy leans more towards Neame’s work with Kairos 4tet, the measured, falling ballad firmly led by Freestone’s known ability to endlessly pour out line after line of beauteous melody.

Breathtakingly complex, Crise de Nerfs jitters to the engaging delirium of Tori Freestone’s flute and Jim Hart’s dizzying vibes display. Alongside Farmer and Hamblett, Neame is more the rhythm-maker here, as well as adding chordal colour… and a fabulous ritenuto again changes the landscape before a final flourish. Piano trio Eastern Chant embodies the spirit of Phronesis, heightened by the swinging, rising bass phrases of Tom Farmer – a great showcase for Ivo Neame’s pianistic creativity. Flute and accordion in Folk Song are hypnotically redolent of Marius Neset’s Scandinavian-wrought jazz, including a chirpy tenor-and-vibes interlude; and, finally, a pictorialisation of Snowfall is magically realised through the particularly delicate, spacial interaction of these five players.

A towering statement from a venturesome British team, Strata is available from Whirlwind – further information, promo video and purchasing options here. And take a look at the entertaining title track video!

 

Ivo Neame piano, accordion, synths
Tori Freestone tenor sax, flute
Jim Hart vibes
Tom Farmer double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

ivoneame.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4674 (2015)

‘Knowledge Porridge’ – The Weave

Weave_lite

“On the street for knowledge, you must eat your porridge.”

BASING THE TITLE of their second album on that quote from a late ’80s song by The La’s (they of There She Goes), fellow Liverpudlians The Weave serve up this ten-track delight which brims with good cheer, memorable licks and more than a hint of positively-channelled mischief.

Led by trumpeter and composer Martin Smith, the band (who have played together in different guises for many years) have grown to be a key element of the city’s buzzing Georgian Quarter scene – an architecturally and artistically rich sector where live music at venues such as The Caledonia and The Grapes is keenly championed. Essentially a dual trumpet and guitar-fronted jazz sextet, they are joined on this recording (engineered by Tony Draper at the very local Parr Steet Studios) by a number of colleagues who add lustre to their happy, ebullient, sometimes quirky Liverpool sound drawn from hard bop and classic trad styles of jazz, as well as pop, rock and a whiff of Canterbury scene eccentricity.

You can get the drift from opener The Pogo (which Smith co-wrote with Frank Zappa drummer, the late Jimmy Carl Black), as it grooves with all the cheerful amiability of Clark Terry or Kenny Ball; and if the initial few bars’ impression is of modest easy-listening jazz/R&B, wait for the album’s irresistibly teasing influences to unfold. Plodding New Orleans-tinged Trumpet Ear audaciously chucks an unexpected extra beat here and there into its rising, Three Little Fishies-suggested motif (Smith’s improvisational trumpet style here not unlike Freddie Hubbard), and the vibes-sparkling I’m In Your House hits a fabulously ’60s about-town blend of Gerry Marsden’s Pacemakers, retro-pop Merseyside band The Coral, and even Herb Alpert (with cool guitar improv from Anthony Ormesher).

The blithe, late-’60s/early-’70s mood is perpetuated in dreamy Our Day On The Mountain, its precise call-and-answer arrangement and smooth, high-reaching flugel lines recalling the late, great Kenny Wheeler; and Evolve and Expand, featuring the voice and acoustic guitar of writer Luciana Mercer, shuffles coolly to sauntering piano and muted trumpets. Written by bassist Hugo Harrison, Para Parrot might imagine an agreeable Django Reinhardt and Dave Brubeck meet-up, with Satchmo guesting; and languishing Our Fathers seems to summon the case-solved closing titles of a monochrome TV detective series, albeit it with subtle Mariachi-twinned trumpets.

Swirling Celtic melodies in Not On Your Nelly (in Liverpool, ‘could be a ‘wet Nelly’ – Google it!) find Smith wonderfully mimicking the double-stopping effect of Irish fiddle music as the piece stomps assuredly, whilst eclectic, new-age title track Knowledge Porridge perhaps reflects the leader’s long association with Kevin Ayers, its faux-tango feel crowned by a bizarre yet eloquent Vivian Stanshall-like oration from trumpeter Anthony Peers. And the gentle, musical-box waltz of charmingly-titled Princess Salami Socks (dedicated to Smith’s young god-daughter, with lilting cello duet from her parents) wistfully winds down the album to its conclusion.

This is certainly a release of fascinatingly different flavours from a clutch of musicians who, through many years of collaboration and enjoyment of their art, intuitively ‘click’ – and it’s a great left-field Summer pleaser, to boot.

Released on 6 July 2015, Knowledge Porridge is available at Bandcamp as download, CD and limited edition 12″ vinyl.

 

Martin Smith trumpet, flugelhorn, musicbox
Anthony Peers trumpet, flugelhorn, spoken word
Anthony Ormesher guitar
Hugo “Harry” Harrison double bass
Tilo Pirnbaum drums
Rob Stringer piano
Andrzej Baranec piano
Vidar Norheim vibraphone
Stuart Hardcastle percussion
with
Luciana Mercer vocals, acoustic guitar
Michael Head 12-string acoustic guitar
Georgina Aasgaard cello
Jonathan Aasgaard cello

theweavemusic.com

Rufusalbino Records (2015)

‘These Skies In Which We Rust’ – John Law’s New Congregation

JohnLaw

FOR ALMOST thirty years, classically-trained British pianist John Law has been pushing on the door of jazz creativity, forming and reshaping his own particularly diverse routes through an impressive catalogue of ensemble and solo piano releases.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

John Law piano, keyboards, glockenspiel
Josh Arcoleo tenor sax
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Laurie Lowe drums, ibo drum
with 
Holly Law voice

johnlaw.org.uk

33 Extreme – 33Xtreme006 (2015)